The IRS announced Monday that it will “transition away” from using ID.me, a facial recognition company the agency had partnered with to verify online accounts. The government’s partnership with the company was widely criticized, as facial recognition technology has been proven to be less accurate with darker-skinned faces. Some had also expressed security concerns over a private company accumulating so much data of people’s faces and sharing it with a government agency.
Facial recognition was intended to make tax filings more secure and improve user experience, according to the IRS. Unlike with passwords, users can’t forget their own face, or accidentally share it with someone else through a phishing scam. Americans were not forced to use ID.me to file their taxes, but would need to upload a selfie to use the facial recognition software and access tax information online.
When the IRS announced its partnership with the private company in January, however, the backlash was immediate. Tensions only escalated when the company finally admitted that it uses a one-to-many matching technique, which requires accumulating a large database of faces users are then matched with. The company had initially denied the use of this technique, before ID.me CEO Blake Hall admitted the company used it in some circumstances to curb identity theft.
Senator Ron Wyden sent an open letter to the IRS Monday, pushing back. Though he didn't highlight the one-to-many matching technique specifically, he named many of the security and bias issues other critics had raised. He also emphasized that the IRS "cannot solve digital identity," urging federal agencies to wait for facial recognition technology to further develop before they choose to implement it.
The IRS quickly responded. “We understand the concerns that have been raised,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, responding directly to the criticism in a press release just hours after Wyden published his open letter. “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured.”
The IRS had planned to roll out the use of ID.me in the summer of 2022. Now, the agency says it is “quickly pursuing short-term options.”